A GP fears patients will face longer waits for blood test results after a private firm is brought in to run the pathology service in south Essex.

Alexander Pattara of the Surgery, High Road, Horndonon- the-Hill, is angry at the decision of bosses at Basildon and Southend hospitals to transfer staff to French company Integrated Pathology Partnerships.

The move comes just over a year after both hospitals campaigned with the Echo to keep GP-ordered blood testing local, following a plan to outsource the service 90 miles away to Bedford.

Dr Pattara said the change was similar to the decision to close A&E at Orsett Hospital, which has led to extra patients and greater pressure on Basildon’s A&E department.

He said: “If the blood has to travel to be tested, there could be a delay in the result, which would mean a delay with diagnosis and treatment, both of which are unacceptable.

“The traffic is always very heavy in the area and between the two hospitals. If there is an accident or the weather is bad it could take a couple of hours to reach its destination.

“If the labs close it will be difficult to re-install them in the future.

“Managers come and go.

People who live in the area will suffer for a long time due to no fault of their own because of a decision made by managers.”

The hospitals say they cannot answer any questions about the future of the service, which also covers their inhouse ordered tests, due to a “ten-day stand-still period” required under European law before the deal is finalised.

But the Echo understands two other companies also bid for the tender.

A consultant at one of the hospitals has warned of a centralised service between the two, which would lead to job losses in the department.

The consultant, who asked not to be named, said: “It does seem to me that any of these private/NHS collaborations only clearly help one group – ie the outside contractors who will extract money from the deal.”

A 2008 review of NHS pathology services by Lord Carter of Coles called for £500million of savings to be made in blood testing.

Integrated Pathology Partnerships claims to have delivered massive savings to the NHS in the south west, where it runs a similar service.